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[Editorial] Miraculous rescue

Miners freed after being trapped in a collapsed shaft for 221 hours

Nov. 8, 2022 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

A day before the national mourning period ended for the 156 people who died in the Halloween crowd crush in Itaewon, good news had come from Bongwha, North Gyeongsang Province.

Two miners were rescued from a collapsed shaft in a zinc mine in the county of North Gyeongsang Province on Friday night.

Their miraculous return brought a message of hope to the nation lost in grief over the Itaewon tragedy.

Team leader Park Jeong-ha (62) and an assistant surnamed Park (56), both walked out alive, helped by rescuers after being trapped underground for 221 hours (9 days and 5 hours).

The mine collapsed on Oct. 26. They were working about 190 meters underground when a large amount of silt poured down a vertical shaft about 30 meters below the surface. Five of seven miners close to the surface escaped or were rescued.

The two trapped miners acted on an emergency survival manual. They managed to find an empty place where air came in and water was accessible. They pitched a tent with plastic and wood pieces in a circular space near the collapsed site and kept themselves warm by making a fire and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder.

They subsisted on underground water that fell from the ceiling after they ran out of the 10 liters of water that they had carried in earlier and instant Korean coffee mix as a meal.

As they heard the sound of blasts above, they reportedly did not lose hope of being rescued. The rescue operation involved an array of institutions, including the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the firefighting authorities, the military and a drilling company. An army unit helped the operation a lot by providing a piece of large boring equipment.

The miners fought desperately to escape immediately after being stuck in the pit where they were working. They went about inside the shaft, looking for a way out. They tried to make a way smashing rocks with their pickaxes. They beat pipes in the shaft in a bid to send a signal that they were alive. But they failed to communicate with rescuers above the ground. Team leader Park said that at first he had never imagined they would be trapped for so long. Later they changed their survival strategy. He told media that he thought they had better give up trying to dig a way out and save their physical energy instead.

It’s likely that an unimaginably enormous fear gripped them, and moments of despair must have darkened their hope. But they never gave up. Their composed behavior in a hopeless situation, their desperate efforts to hold out with a hope of being rescued, and rescuers' die-hard struggle to save them seem to have done wonders. Fortunately, the miners are said to be in stable condition and recovering quickly.

Some worrisome issues are involved in the mine collapse. A thorough and wide-ranging investigation is inevitable.

The company that operates the zinc mine would find it hard to avoid criticisms that it dealt too loosely with a serious situation where the miners hung between life and death. The company called 119 late -- 14 hours after the accident happened -- in an apparent bid to rescue the workers on its own.

A cave-in took place at a different point of the vertical shaft in the mine on Aug. 29, killing one and injuring another. It was a grave fatal event, and it is questionable whether the mine operator made sufficient preparations to prevent similar accidents.

The police formed a task force to investigate the latest collapse. Separately from the police investigation, the authorities responsible for managing and supervising mine safety need to examine the accident closely. There is no place for negligence in preventing accidents. The government must also raise the people's awareness of safety.